Recipe: Kombucha Cocktail
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that contains a lot of probiotics. I attended a lecture on fermented foods recently and decided it sounded interesting. The lecturers recommended trying small amounts of Kombucha at first until your digestive system gets used to it. Here is a really refreshing drink to try.
Pour in layers into a glass filled with ice:
1/3 Sparkling Cucumber flavored water
1/3 Chilled herbal tea
Optional: garnish with fresh herbs or edible flowers from the garden.
Are you interested in brewing your own Kombucha? What interesting flavors could you make from your tea herb harvest? Here are a couple of articles to help you get started.
How to Harvest and Dry Herbs
Here are the methods I use for drying and storing herbs. These procedures come partly from the book “Growing and Using Herbs Successfully” by Betty E.M. Jacobs plus years of trial and error. In order to get the optimal flavor and fragrance from herbs, the best time to harvest them is between the time the first flower buds appear and before the flowers open. If possible, lightly spray the herbs with water the day before you plan to harvest, that way you can save a step by not having to wash them after cutting. It’s ideal to harvest on a sunny day after the dew has dried on the leaves but before the day has reached its hottest point. As you harvest, you can remove all but 4 inches of the stem on annual herbs. On perennial herbs, you can take 1/3 of the plant. Proper identification of your plants before harvesting for consumption is critical because some plants are toxic.
Different herbs will be at their best time for harvesting at varying points during the season. You may be able to get two or three cuts from some plants. If you miss the optimum time, you will still get some benefit from the herbs but you may have to use more. Some of my herbs (like most members of the mint family) need to be trimmed and thinned regularly anyway to keep them from taking over the garden.
There are some exceptions, but most herbs can be stored and used in the dry form. It’s most common to dry herb leaves, though with some herbs you might use different parts of the plant such as the flowers or roots. I’ll demonstrate an easy way to dry leafy herbs with some Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) from my Dad’s garden. These plants (and all the Lemon Balm plants in my own garden) are descendants from a specimen I purchased a the Webster Groves Herb Society Sale in 2003 when I first started herb gardening.
If your herbs are already clean from spraying with water the previous day, you can put them right in the drying bag. Take a paper grocery bag and write on it the species you are harvesting and the date. Cut the herbs and loosely let them fall into the bag as you cut (cut the parts you want rather than pull off as pulling may damage the roots). Put the bag in a dry, dark area for one month. To save space, I hang my bags with clothespins from a chain in a closet. The herbs should be dry after a month has passed. The next step is to strip and store the herb leaves.
Stripping the leaves from the stems is very easy but a little messy. You might want to do this task outdoors if possible but if the weather is not favorable you’ll have to do this inside. Spread a towel over your work area to catch plant bits. Place a container to one side to catch stems. Take each herb stem from the bag and hold it over a large bowl. Starting from the top of the stem and working down, pull off the leaves with your hand. If the herbs are fully dried the leaves should come right off with no effort. There are a few herbs that cause some irritation to my nose during this step so if you are concerned about allergies you could try wearing a dust mask.
Store the stripped leaves in a labeled glass jar or in a paper bag, away from moisture or sunlight. Keep the leaves intact if possible before using, in case crumbling them ahead of time releases some of the potency. If you later notice any condensation in the jar, the herbs were not dry enough, so take them out and let them dry some more in a paper bag so they don’t get moldy. You can discard the stems in the compost or try to find a creative way to use them – depending on the herb the stems may have some fragrance or flavor in them. I’ve been known to put them in sachet bags, grind them up to make fragrance pastilles, burn them in a grilling fire or campfire, heat them in water in potpourri crock pot or use them to make flavored vinegar. When it’s time to use the herb leaves, they will probably crumble just fine with your fingers but you could use a grinder or mortar and pestle to help get a finer grind if needed.
If you need to wash the herbs after picking, here is an easy way to do it. Clean your kitchen sink and fill it with cool water. Take a handful of herb stems with leaves and shake – this helps dislodge any bugs or dirt. If any leaves fall off on their own accord, discard those. Quickly dunk the herbs in the water, shake again and let drip dry on a towel. Inspect each stem for chewed up or discolored leaves and remove those. Place herbs on another dry towel and let dry. If you need to speed up the drying, you can run a fan over them. Turn the herbs while drying and place them on a fresh dry towel. Usually after about a day the herbs are dry to the touch and ready to put in a labeled bag and left for a month in a dark dry place to dry completely. If you have larger quantities of herbs to handle and you have space you can set up special drying areas with racks but if you want to keep it simple just harvest as much as you have room to process at one time.
The preceding instructions will work for most herbs but if you need guidance with things like fruits, seeds, fleshy roots or other special cases just do a search for “how to harvest + name of herb”.
Ideas for herbal tea blends:
Make Your Own Herbal Teas
Directory of useful herbs
Directory of Culinary and Medicinal Herbs
Some ways I’ve experimented with my harvested herbs:
Fun With Food
Melt and Pour Soap Recipes and Other Personal Care Products – making soap is what inspired me to start growing herbs in the first place!
Bulb Planting and Care Tips for Fall
Many popular bulb plants, such as Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths are best planted in the fall. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your bulb investment.
Preparation, Selection and Planting of Spring Flowering Bulbs
Overwintering Non-Hardy Bulbs
Do you have any bulb plants in your garden that are not winter hardy? Depending on the species they may need to be dug up and stored for winter before the first hard frost. Other plants such as Dahlias, Cannas and Pineapple Lilies can be overwintered by putting a circle of mesh around the plant and filling it with loose mulch 1-2 feet deep. Look up the guidelines for your particular plant if you are not sure.
Here are links to some specific planting and care guidelines for bulbs that we sell at Schnarr’s. The bulb offerings at each of our stores differ somewhat so call ahead to check on stock if you want a specific plant.
Skeleton Key Necklace
Tools and materials
* indicates items that are available at Schnarr’s
Can of clear sealing spray* (could be acrylic or polyurethane)
Round nose pliers
Chain nose pliers (small long nose*, needle nose* or flat nose* pliers would also work)
Side cutters (When they’re sold as jewelry tools, these are called side cutters but the diagonal cut pliers* found at Schnarr’s are very similar. You can also buy long nose pliers that include a cutter. These aren’t as good for close in cutting as the side or diagonal cut pliers, but for this project they will probably be adequate. If you only want to buy one tool for this project and don’t care if your loops are perfectly round, you can get by with just the long nose pliers if they include a cutter. For perfectly round loops you will need round nose pliers in addition.)
Split ring pliers
An assortment of crystal, pearl and glass beads
Copper or gold colored seed beads
Headpins (6), eyepins (8), split rings (4) and large jump rings (4) in metal color or colors of your choice
1mm beading cord
Crimping cord ends
If you like, you can substitute metal craft chain* for the beading cord and then you would not need the cord ends.
1. First select a skeleton key to be the focal point of your necklace. If you’re lucky you might find an antique key that looks just right. Vintage metal parts are in such demand that craft retailers sell a variety of replicas. You can also buy a brand new skeleton key from Schnarr’s. Decide if you want to simulate an antique patina. To artificially age your key soak it in a cup or so of vinegar with a teaspoon of salt added overnight. Let dry and rinse well with water. Let key dry thoroughly and spray with a clear coating.
2. Put your key down on your work surface and select small beads that complement your key. Arrange beads around it to see if you like how they look and how you would like them to hang. You can also add charms if you have any.
3. Make dangles for each side of the key by stringing beads onto eyepins and headpins. Make some of your dangles longer by connecting headpin sections to eyepin sections. Use gold or copper colored seed beads as accents and spacers for the pearl, crystal and glass beads.
4. Attach dangles to the lower openings of the key on either side.
5. Select a large jump ring and attach it to the top loop of your key. Run a piece of chain through the jump ring to suspend the key as a pendant on the chain. Variation: if using beading cord, thread two additional pearl beads onto eyepins and use them as a transition from the jump rings at the top of the key to the beading cord.
6. Attach clasp to the chain ends with jump rings. If using beading cord, attach split rings to the pearl segments and attach a doubled piece of 1 mm cord to the split ring with a lark’s head knot.
7. If using beading cord, attach the clasp by crimping the cord ends with cord end findings, using a dot of glue to help hold them in place. Attach a split ring to each end then a clasp to one end. You’re done!
If you need a source for the jewelry supplies, try my online store or a local craft supply retailer.
We also have a lot of great projects on the Schnarr’s Pinterest site!
How I Use My Garden for Self Care
Life can be stressful at times. If we don’t take time for self care our health can suffer. I recently saw an advertisement for a workshop about gardening and holistic self care. I was not able to attend and learn some new things, but I can think of a lot of ways in which my garden already helps me with my own self care.
Exercise – That’s good for physical and mental health.
Time outdoors – Health benefits accrue from contact with nature and sunlight.
Hobby activity and learning – Observing what is going on in my garden and finding out the reasons why is great excercise for the brain. Studying for my Master Gardener tests earlier this year gave my memorization skills a big boost. If photography, sketching, painting or other visual arts are hobbies for you the garden can provide a lot of interesting subjects.
Mindfulness – I’m learning more about Mindfulness and how to practice it. The pleasant sensory experiences in a garden (taste, sight, smell, sound, touch) are a great incentive for Mindfulness exercises.
A sense of purpose – When I work on my garden, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am learning things that I can teach to others. I’m making the vicinity healthier and more pleasant for my human neighbors. Because of the way I manage my garden I’m helping address environmental problems that affect all of us – soil erosion, soil health, flooding, overuse of pesticides, scarcity of pollinators for crops, air quality and water quality. The impact of my garden may be small but it’s more satisfying to do something than nothing. The number of beneficial non-human species that use my garden lets me know that I’m providing healthy habitat for them. I also donate some of the extra seeds I raise to non-profits.
Indoor environment improved – My gardens surround all three exterior walls of my condo so when I open the windows delicious fragrances waft in. I set vases of cut flowers and herbs around to freshen and beautify the interior. If you believe in aromatherapy, you can breathe in some herbal essential oils right from the plant! I also make potpourri from the dried herbs.
Nutrition – I harvest edible leaves and make tasty beverages from herbs in my garden. The freshness enhances both taste and nutritional value.
Personal care products – I use herbs from the garden dried or fresh in a number of personal care products such as facial masks, bath tea, soaps, face lotion, skin balm and more (some of my recipes are here). Luxury bath products do make you feel cared for and when you make your own they’re even more luxurious because they’re made to your specifications.
Spritual benefits – Many faith traditions can incorporate gardening and plants – for example mazes, grottoes, shrines, incense and more. Many people find that working in concert with nature makes them feel closer to the Creator they believe in.
According to a book I’m reading now, “The Expressive Arts Activity Book” by Suzanne Darley and Wende Heath, the arts are inherently therapeutic. Gardening is an art and many products of the garden can be used in art forms such as cooking and flower arranging. Although I don’t know much about it yet, there is a professional field called Horticultural Therapy. If you already have a garden, I encourage you to take time to enjoy it’s benefits. If you are thinking of starting one the fall is an excellent time – waiting until spring to start a garden from scratch can be a challenge!
Build a Mosaic Plant Stand
In this article I’ll show you how to make a stand to show off a special container plant. Raising a planter off of its surface can really enhance the appearance of a single specimen or help you create an attractive container plant grouping by providing elevation to some containers. Such a stand may also help protect the surface underneath by allowing air circulation under the pot so the surface can dry out between waterings. This stand is designed for both indoor and outdoor use. It is designed to let water from the plants run off, rather than catching it. This stand can also be used as a sturdy trivet indoors or outdoors.
Tools and Supplies
* indicates items that are available at Schnarr’s
8 x 8″ x 1/2″ board*
Lattice wood strips 1 1/4″ wide*
Pencil or pen
Hot glue gun*
Wood hot glue sticks
Tiny drill bit*
Wooden ball knobs or drawer pulls with 3/16″ holes to use as feet (Wood drawer pulls are available at Schnarr’s Webster Groves store)
3/16″ drill bit*
3/16″ dowel rod*
An assortment of ceramic tiles and/or glass pieces that are about 1/4″ thick
Palette knife or putty knife*
Ceramic tile cement*
Old plastic lid
Mixing container for grout (can be an old food container)
Bucket* of water for cleanup
Tile and grout sealer*
1. Cut an 8 x 8″ square out of 1/2″ thick plywood.
2. Cut four 8 1/4″ lengths out of a piece of 1 1/4″ wide lattice wood. Miter the corners at a 45 degree angle as you cut.
3. Put on dust mask and sand the rough edges off of your wood pieces.
4. On the inside edge of each mitered piece draw a line 1/4″ from the top.
5. Glue mitered pieces to the edges of the 8 x 8″ block using hot glue as the adhesive and your drawn line as a guide to help line them up. You should end up with a 1/4″ lip all the way around, creating a tray that will hold your tile pieces.
6. As a reinforcement to the glue, drill a couple of small pilot holes on each side of the tray and hammer nails in for a strong hold.
7. Choose four wooden ball knobs or wooden drawer pulls with 3/16″ holes. Place them in the corners of the bottom of your tray. Draw around the base of each with pencil to indicate where their footprint will be. Set knobs aside.
8. Switch to a 3/16″ drill bit and drill a hole in the center of each drawn circle. Try not to go all the way through the wood but if you accidentally do it’s no big problem.
9. Cut short segments (about 1″) from a 3/16″ in diameter piece of wooden dowel rod to make pegs. Insert pegs into holes in wood and thread knobs onto pegs to make sure they are not too long and that there is no gap between the knob and the bottom of the tray. When satisfied, remove, dab wood glue onto each end of each peg, and re-insert into holes. Place knobs over pegs and press in place. Let wood glue dry. I left the wood unpainted in my sample but if you want to you can paint or stain the wood and give a waterproof clear coating like spar varnish.
10. Get out your tiles and arrange in the tray to make an arrangement that is pleasing to you. For my sample I used tiles I salvaged from Leftovers, Etc. and some translucent glass blobs which were backed with colored paper. Try to leave a litte bit of space between each piece.
11. Once you have decided on an arrangement, scoop a small quantity of ceramic tile cement out of the container and place on an old plastic lid. Keep container closed so the rest of your cement doesn’t dry out. Use palette knife or putty knife to apply cement to the back of each pice and press in place. If any tile pieces are thinner than the others, you can put some extra cement on the back to build up the height. Let cement dry for the time period indicated on the container.
12. When cement is dry you’re ready to apply grout. Grouting is very messy – I recommend you wear old clothes and protect your work surface and floor. Have plenty of clean rags on hand and a small bucket of water for cleanup. Don’t be surprised if you need a bath when you’re done!
13. Put some grout in a small plastic tray, such as one left over from a microwave dinner. Add water until it’s about the consistency of soft cream cheese – a little at a time to make sure you don’t add too much. Stir it with your putty knife as you add the water. Try to only mix up small amounts at a time so it does not start to set up before you’ve applied it.
14. Put on your disposable gloves, and use a rag to pick up a portion of tile cement. Smear it around to fill the cracks between tiles. The rags will help protect your hands from sharp pieces if there are any. The thin disposable gloves will protect your hands from being irritated, dried out or discolored by the grout, but alone they will not protect you from cuts.
After the tray is grouted, go back over it with a succession of fresh rags to remove the grout from the surface of the tiles. Dampen the rag with a little water toward the end to get them really cleaned off if needed. Be careful not to dispose of any grout in your sink – it could clog the drain. Dispose of any rags that are really soaked with grout – I put mine in the compost. If some are only slightly dirty, you may be able to re-use them by rinsing them in a bucket of water. If you do that, dump the dirty water out in the yard, don’t put it down the drain.
15. Let the grout dry, then apply tile and grout sealer. You’re done!
Stencil a Sofa Shelf Made From Distressed Wood
This project was made from the same stash of distressed wood that I used for the previous project Stencil a Wood Garden Sign. I kept aside a couple of intact large planks so I could make some interesting shelving. The wood was bare on one side and had partially peeling white paint over green on the other side. I decided to use the white side as a ground for some stencils I cut that were inspired by a mid-century modern building I saw on vacation last summer.
Tools and Supplies
* indicates items that are available at Schnarr’s
Distressed wood plank the length of your sofa
Drop cloth for work surface*
Water based paint* for large areas
Acrylic craft paints for stenciling
Water based clear satin wood varnish*
Assorted size old food containers for mixing paint and varnish
Old food container lids to use as palette while stenciling
Masking tape or painters tape*
1. Put on a dust mask and sand your wood plank to remove rough edges and peeling paint. It’s always a good idea to wear a dust mask to keep from breathing small particles but I think it is even more important when working with old salvaged wood. You don’t know what that wood was treated with, what is in the old paint and it could be moldy as well. After sanding, wipe off the dust with a damp rag.
2. My wood plank already had a satisfactory ground color, white, on what would become the top surface. If your plank does not already have a ground color that you like, you can apply one. House or wall paint is a good choice. One technique that is really effective with the distressed look is to paint a contrasting color under the ground color. Some random sanding here and there later to expose the different layers of paint will simulate the effect of an old piece of wood that has been painted multiple times.
3. Apply a contrasting color to the sides and bottom of the board. As you can see, when you paint surfaces where two colors come together at a corner, it’s easy to slop a little paint over where you don’t want it. One reason that I love the distressed look so much is that when you sand off paint to conceal your mistakes, it looks like part of the design. If you are trying to paint precise corners or lines they don’t look good unless they are perfect, but with a distressed effect you can be a little sloppy!
4. Next put your dust mask on again and sand the corners and edges of your board to expose the wood in those places. Then check to see if any paint is beyond the corner where it is supposed to be, such my example below on the left.
Sand away any paint that is in the wrong place, such as the excess paint that I removed from the top of the board. As I sanded the excess paint off, I exposed some of the wood grain on the front of the board and some of the green paint that is under the white paint. If you are using a really beat up piece of wood like I did in my sample, you can make some artistic decisions about sanding other areas. If there was a rough spot that I found pleasing, such as wood grain, I sanded such spots to enhance the texture. If there were spots that were not pleasing, such as dirty spots or flaking paint, I sanded to remove those unwanted areas of paint.
5. Decide what design you want to stencil on the top side of your shelf. I designed stencils specifically for this project but I have and will use them in lots of other projects as well. If you would like detailed information on how to cut your own stencils, see my article Fun With Stencils.
6. Apply craft paint through your chosen stencils in the colors of your choice. If you are new to stenciling on wood, please see my article Stencil a Wood Garden Sign for detailed instructions.
7. When stenciled paint is dry, to further enhance the distressed look mix up a paint/varnish/water mixture. Here is how – in a small container, mix some paint until you get a shade of dark brown that you like. In another larger container, mix a half and half solution of water and satin finish water based wood varnish. Gradually mix in some of the brown paint until you get a stain that you like – test by brushing on an inconspicuous spot. It should be dark enough to tone down your design a little bit and give it a weathered look, but not so dark that it obscures it. When the mix is right, stain/varnish your whole board and let dry.
8. Attach brackets of your choice to the wall behind your sofa, and set shelf in place. You’re done!
Recipe: Herbed Up Melon Salad
This will spice up your breakfast a bit!
Go the garden and pick a double handful mixed selection of whatever you have in your garden from this list:
Bee Balm (Monarda), Lemon Balm (Melissa), Peppermint (Mentha), Korean Hyssop (Agastache Rugosa), edible wild Violet (Viola), Basil, Borage (young leaves)
Edible Hibiscus, Dandelion (discard calyx), edible Roses, edible wild Violet (Viola), Borage
Chop a melon and put pieces in a bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice and agave nectar. Top with chopped herbs and flowers. If you have any discarded stems, use them to flavor your morning tea!
If you are interested you can read more of my recipes on my Fun With Food page.
Recipe: Carrot Soup With Herbs and Wild Greens
I like carrots a lot but it gets kind of boring to eat them the same old way all the time. This recipe will liven up a bunch of carrots!
1 bunch or bag of carrots
Colander full of fresh edible weed leaves and herbs from the garden – I used Dandelion, Violet, Asiatic Dayflower, Chives, Lemon Balm
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp marjoram
1/4 tsp savory
1/4 tsp thyme
Wash herbs and leaves and remove from stems. Discard stems. Heat a large pan or wok and stir fry herbs and leaves in cooking oil until wilted. Put greens in soup pot.
Chop carrots into discs or straws thin enough to cook easily. Add more oil to pan and stir fry carrots and garlic cloves until somewhat browned. You don’t have to cook them all the way, just brown some of the sides for caramelized flavor. Add to soup pot.
Add broth to cooking pan and heat long enough to mix in pan juices. Pour broth over vegetables in soup pot in a quantity enough to cover. Bring to a boil then turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add spices and salt while simmering.
Let soup cool enough to be safe to put in a blender. You may need to blend it in batches and add to a large bowl to mix batches together. Blend to a smooth consistency. Warm if needed and serve.
If you are interested you can read more of my recipes on my Fun With Food page.